Root Cause Analysis is a very useful tool for problem resolution and essential part of all management system standards. We will see what is Root Cause Analysis and some useful tools to get to the Root Cause of problems.

What is Root Cause Analysis?

Root cause analysis is a method of identifying the source of the problem and solving a problem at its source, rather than just treating the symptoms.

If you’ve ever tried solving a problem, but it shows up again and again, you’re probably not treating the root cause.

What are Problems, Symptoms, Causes & Root Cause?

Problem or Incident - Issue faced, Non-conformance to the expectations. For example, getting ‘frequent headache’ is a problem.

Symptoms Problem and Symptom are two words that are often confused words that give similar purport, but they are actually not so. They are related, but not the same. Symptoms are indicators or signs that a problem exists. In our example of headache problem, the symptoms are getting tired, not having appetite, sleep deprivation, etc. are symptoms.

Causes Causes are the list of various reasons or changes why the problem or incident happened. In our headache problem which has become a headache for this session now, causes could be Sleeplessness the previous night, Intense reading, over exposure to computer and mobile screens, Remaining hungry for long, etc. There could be any number of causes. Causes are essentially events or changes in time.

Root Cause Root Cause is the fundamental cause or basis for a problem or non-conformance from which other causes emanate.

Symptoms cannot be treated. The Causes can be treated, but treating the causes gives only temporary relief from the problem. Treating the Root Cause only gives permanent resolution of the problem.

In our headache problem, Root Cause could be a ‘nerve disorder connecting the eye to the brain’.

Understanding the definition of Symptoms, Causes and Root Cause gives rise two different types of actions to address a problem. They are CORRECTION and CORRECTIVE ACTION.  Don’t they look similar? They look like wordplay, but there is ‘sea of difference’ between Correction and Corrective Action. What is the difference?

Correction - Set of related actions taken to eliminate a non-conformity or issue by addressing a cause is known as Correction.

The correction does not ensure permanent resolution. Like in our headache problem, treating a cause that intense and continuous reading develops into headache may not necessarily solve the problem permanently.

Corrective Action Action taken to eliminate the root cause of a nonconformity and to prevent recurrence.

Corrective Action will ensure that the issue or the non-conformity will not recur.

There is also another type of action(s) known as Preventive Action(s). More confusing?

Preventive Action Action taken to eliminate the cause of a potential nonconformity or other potential undesirable situation.

In short, Preventive Action prevents the occurrence, and Corrective Action prevents recurrence, while correction basically refers to containment.

Preventive Action is proactive, Correction and Corrective Actions are reactive.

Preventive Action is akin to Risk Treatment Action whereas Correction and Corrective Actions are taken after a problem has occurred.

In Management Standards, Audits and Assessments are Preventive Actions but Preventive Actions cannot be defined for an Audit Occurrence. Latest versions of the management standards have removed the need for implementing Preventive Actions.

Together, Corrective Actions and Preventive Actions are known as CAPA.

To be continued…

About the Author

Jaganathan T is the Managing Director of IT Services company FutureCalls Technology Private Limited. Jaganathan is an accomplished author and motivational speaker by passion. He has written and published two books ‘Management Immemorial – Learnings from Literature’ and ‘Grandma in The Board Room’. Author can be reached at

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